Mag
Articles
Old Food in New Context

Old Food in New Context

Words by

Published September 26, 2008

The buffet of the century: a history of Icelandic food culture is the first exhibit of its kind, focused on Icelandic food culture in the 20th century. Organiser Sólveig Ólafsdóttir sheds some light on the project.

So, can you tell us a little bit about the upcoming exhibition?
The exhibition is about food in Reykjavik in the 20th century. It is a timeline showing the food culture change in Reykjavik. On the opening weekend we’re offering a five course menu on the Saturday, including rye bread with whipped cream. This an Icelandic version of a Danish dish that normally includes apples.

Apples were hard to get hold of earlier this century weren’t they?
The myth that Icelanders ate their first apples around 1950 is simply not true. For the first 30 years of this century, if you had money you could buy apples and grapes in Reykjavik. It was very special. Most of the ships came from England or Denmark. You could call them “colonial grapes.” The government banned imports on fruit and vegetables shortly after the Second World War. Sometime around 1955, we began to import fruit again, but only at Christmas time. Especially apples. The smell of the apples are deeply connected with Christmas still today.

So was it just apples available?
The only fruit that were available were for those who needed prescriptions. The doctors prescribed oranges and such for colds. The government ran this for around 25 years.

Are there any other myths that need dispelling?
From the beginning of the 20th century, until 1930, there was free import for everything into Iceland, unlike in the latter part of the 20th century. We need to dispel a few myths. We say to foreigners try the shark, try the black death, try the sea pests, but we don’t like them either. There is nothing we can term typically Icelandic. There is nothing unique about this. You shouldn’t like something just because it is “Icelandic”. The only thing that is ‘unique’ is that only an Icelander would typically eat dried fish and butter.

What was Reykjavik like for foreign troops stationed here?
During the Second World War, 20,000 British soldiers got bored of the canned meat they brought. Reykjavik housewives tried to make fish and chips. There was no history of deep fried culture here though. It was just bad potatoes.

Where would this kind of event take place?
Hotel Borg was one of the locations. The cooks and the managers of the hotel tried to make the menu like continental style for the officers. The officers did not like this food. It sounds hilarious.
Did the Reykjavikians get anything back in return for their “efforts”?
In return, the canned meat that the troops brought was the hottest thing on the black market. The military brought many other things off the boat and the freezer was the best hiding place for this.

Where do you find such interesting stories?
Before this exhibit there were no good books about Icelandic food culture. We had to do this ourselves. We gathered together old recipes and interviews. There are only primary sources for available for research purposes. A lot of untold stories. The whole thing lacks a lot of overview. We go forward and try to fill out the full picture of Icelandic food culture.

How do you recreate such history and prevent an exhibition being ‘dry’?
It’s difficult to put food in an exhibition and so an atmosphere will be on display in a very orderly old kitchen exhibit. Posters of old brands from Iceland will be on the walls, including one of a canned meat called ‘Geysir’. Brands that have been around for many decades, having connections to every household.

Did any foods get ‘lost in translation’ along the way?
We are actually going to offer mistaken recipes because of the errors in translation. In one recipe from Norway in baking cookies, you should use blackcurrant, but in translation they came out as coriander cookies, so I am going to bake some of those!



Mag
Articles
Two Days Of Criminal Activity

Two Days Of Criminal Activity

by

People thought we were nuts at the time, when in reality we were suffering from good old Icelandic gung-ho enthusiasm. This year, we ought to know better. Three of us—Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and I—got together last year to organise a small crime fiction festival in Reykjavík. After all, how hard could it be? We had all been to a few of these, and it didn’t look like it could be all that much of a headache. It had seemed odd to us that Iceland didn’t have its own crime fiction festival. After all, there are plenty of them elsewhere.

Mag
Articles
A New Wave Of Protests

A New Wave Of Protests

by

Tension has been rising in Iceland of late. An estimated 4,500 people attended a general protest against the government on November 4, almost completely filling Austurvöllur by Alþingi. This marks it as one of the biggest demonstrations this year. The event was initially inspired by a Facebook rant from singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur, wherein he bemoaned the current coalition government’s favouritism of the rich and powerful. Instigator Svavar Knútur began the demonstration by addressing the crowd. In his speech—which has been widely shared across social media since the event—he likened the rally to the first of three warnings his father used to

Mag
Articles
Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

by

Standing by the door of a two-storey building in the Höfði industrial district and not finding a doorbell, I call Chaplas Menke, who says he’ll come down to let me in. My interview subject made local headlines this September, after being reportedly brutalised by the police. Since then, the story has gone quiet. A short while later, he invites me to his abode. He is of average height, dark-skinned, with sunken eyes and a svelte frame. He has a thick accent and speaks hesitatingly, picking his words carefully. I ask him how he’s doing, and he modestly says okay as

Mag
Articles
News In Brief: November

News In Brief: November

by

Icelanders have once again grown fed up with their elected representatives, staging a massive protest demonstration in front of Alþingi last Monday. Thousands stood at Austurvöllur, Reykjavík’s hip spot for protest meetings, to denounce a veritable cornucopia of bad policy decisions (police estimated 4,500 attendees at the protest, while some attendees estimated that they were in fact closer to 7,000). This particular time around, the political party actually leading the country–in this case, the Progressives–have most recently polled at just under 9%. Remember, folks: the last time a ruling coalition stepped down, it was because one party didn’t want to

Mag
Articles
Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

by

After DV revealed that the police had just acquired some 150 submachine guns from Norway, Chief Superintendent Jón Bjartmarz—who refused to answer any of the newspaper’s questions—explained on RÚV’s Kastljós that they have possessed machine guns “ever since after the Gúttó-fight.” “The Gúttó-fight” was a violent clash between police and workers, who were protesting announced wage reductions, back in 1932. The reference is as significant as they get. An Icelandic State Police authority, as opposed to a municipal one, was established in the aftermath of that fight, to ensure that authorities would henceforth have the upper hand against demonstrators. This

Mag
Articles
Pippa’s Wish

Pippa’s Wish

by

A particularly heart-warming story made the rounds recently when a crowdfunding campaign called “Pippa’s Wish” hit its required target, after a month online. The GoFundMe campaign was started by family friend Tamara Antonelli Comerford to take Pippa—a disabled seven-year-old Sigur Rós fan from Missouri, who suffered a stroke at birth that left her with Cerebral Palsy, among other medical conditions—on the family holiday of a lifetime. During an extended convalescence after an operation to reshape her pelvis and straighten her legs, Pippa was in severe pain, but responded with fascination to the soothing beauty of Sigur Rós’ tour documentary ‘Heima’,

Show Me More!